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Is Porn Cheating? If your husband watches porn, is he breaking a marriage vow?

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! Today I’m going to deal with a question I get a lot: Is porn use the same as adultery?

One of the most common problems that I hear about from women is that their husbands use porn. Men start turning to porn, and then they stop turning to their wives. It’s really so, so sad, because so many men are trapped in it. I get so many emails just like this one:

My husband watches porn and I don’t know what to do about it. I’ve told him I don’t like it but I caught him again. What do I do?

Now porn users aren’t necessarily male. About 30% of porn users are now female, so let’s not assume it’s always the guy. Nevertheless, it is a problem that many males battle.  But regardless of the gender of the user, how serious a problem is porn?

Well, Jesus said in Matthew 5:28:

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Is Porn Cheating? A look at why it is--and what we should do about it.Now some blogs, primarily in the “manosphere” (the blogs that talk to men about how marriage law and society is tilted towards women and away from men) have given me grief because I’ve come out so hard against pornography, but haven’t seemed to take a similar stand against romance novels. And besides, porn isn’t necessarily cheating, they say. Men aren’t necessarily lusting after those women; they’re merely using porn to get excited, in the same way that women use romance novels to get excited.

But using something else to get excited, instead of your partner, is lust. You are using something other than your spouse for sexual gratification and arousal. And that is wrong.

And let’s be perfectly blunt and a little bit gross: porn and masturbation go hand in hand, if you’ll excuse the pun. Rarely do you have one without the other.

Can romance novels inspire lust and fantasy? Yes, but they don’t necessarily do it. Romance novels can fuel dissatisfaction with one’s spouse, but they don’t always. Porn, on the other hand, was created primarily to arouse, and that is what it does, so much so that porn users often come to the point that they require porn to get aroused.

So while romance novels CAN be bad, by setting up unrealistic romantic fantasies, porn ALWAYS is.

Do you see the difference? Watching porn is lust. It distorts our sexuality, making sex about merely the physical, and not the relational and spiritual connection. It makes it harder to become aroused by a person. To compare Jane Austen to Hustler magazine is ridiculous. My 11-year-old read Jane Austen’s books. But I’d never let her touch Hustler. With romance novels, some of us may take them too far, but many will not. With porn, the intention is that it be taken that way.

But is porn cheating?

When I asked my my Facebook fans “is watching porn cheating?” the overwhelming response was “yes”. So here’s the thing for men to understand: to women, watching porn is cheating, even if you say the porn has nothing to do with your wife.

But I’m not sure the answer is as clear-cut as this, because there are really two aspects to the question: the spiritual and the practical. Spiritually, Jesus said it was the same. But the practical question is really the more important one: adultery is grounds for divorce. Is porn grounds for divorce? Jesus also said, in that same passage, that whoever hates his brother is guilty of murder. Yet we don’t lock up people for bearing a grudge. So I think we have to tread carefully.

I do believe pornography is a sin.

It’s a sin against one’s own body, it’s a sin against God, and it’s a sin against one’s spouse. It wrecks the sexual relationship, and wrecks one’s spiritual intimacy both with God and one’s spouse. It is bad in every way.

But that does not mean that the marriage cannot be redeemed, and nor does it necessarily mean that the spouse (normally the wife, but it could go the other way) has grounds for divorce. I have known many women whose husbands have cheated on them with actual women, and I think to compare a guy who occasionally looks at porn to a guy who has an affair is unfair. The hurt is far greater.

However, I have known other women who are married to compulsive masturbators who use porn everyday, and occasionally even when children are running around. In many ways this is worse than a one night stand.

Thus, it’s hard to make a definitive rule. It depends on the situation, and because divorce is so devastating for all involved, I would err on the side of patience and grace for as long as is possible. So with that in mind, let’s look at what to do if your husband watches porn (and I’ll talk about it in those terms now since it is primarily women who read this blog.)

1. Confront Your Husband About His Porn Use

If you suspect he’s using porn, often because he has no sexual interest in you, ask him point blank. If he says no, ask him to see his computer and his phone. If he refuses, you likely have a problem. That’s a major marriage red flag.

Have a serious talk with him and tell him that you will not put up with this. This is endangering the marriage, is sinning against you, against him, and against God, and endangers the children. It must stop.

2. Install Filters

Install filters on your computer that eliminate porn, or that send emails so you can see what he’s watching on the computer. Some men actually are relieved to be discovered, and find this freeing, because most men who use porn don’t actually want to. It’s become a compulsion.

When porn is cheating--how to confront him.You can also install an accountability program like Covenant Eyes, which will send an email to an accountability partner of your choice whenever you access a site you shouldn’t. It’s a great deterrent! Find out more here. And use the code TLHV to get your first month free!

If he refuses, then you really need some more help. Talk to a mentor at church, or your pastor, and get some outside counsel as to what to do.

3. Ask Your Pastor for an Accountability Partner

Ask your husband to request an accountability partner at church–another man that he can talk to. You should not be his accountability partner, because he can’t be honest with you if he slips up. You’ll be very upset. He needs someone with distance whom he can confess his struggles to without dealing with fallout in the relationship.

4. Rebuild Your Sex Life

You can’t compete by buying lingerie, or by being extra kinky, because the problem is not with you. It’s that he’s become aroused by outside images. So rebuild your sex life slowly, helping him to learn to be present in the moment and to be aroused just by both of you making love again. That can take some time, and let him be free to stop in the middle of things if he finds his mind wandering and returning to images. You want him to be able to be honest.

And if he won’t stop using porn, do not feed the habit by agreeing to act out what he sees, or by making love right after he’s used porn. In that case, you’ve become a sex toy, and not a wife. Be available and open to him, but only when the sex reflects real love and a relationship, not when it’s fed by something else.

5. When Can Porn Use Be Grounds for Separation? 

I would view porn as somewhere on the continuum between alcoholism and adultery. Porn can become an addiction, and when it is a compulsion that is hard to break, there is often little you can do about it. But someone who is addicted to alcohol and drinks everyday is in a different category than someone who binge drinks occasionally. Both are bad, but one will destroy your life; the other is wrong, but not deadly to a marriage. So while any porn use is wrong, I don’t believe it is necessarily grounds for leaving the marriage. In fact, in most cases I would say that it is not.

Nevertheless, if he refuses to address the problem, and you know that he is a compulsive porn user, there may come a time when you have little choice but to separate.

I would see this in a similar way to someone who is married to an alcoholic who refuses to change. When the alcoholism starts to endanger your finances, his work, your marriage, and the kids, you need to get out. Similarly, if he is watching porn all the time, and it’s endangering his marriage, his kids, and other aspects of his life, then it may be necessary to do something drastic. I wouldn’t do this if he wants to change, and is struggling, or if the porn use is only occasional. Separation is only for the destructive, compulsive porn user. When the porn use has become a porn addiction, you’ve got a serious problem.

And in this case, I would start with a separation, not a divorce. Divorce is really only a last resort, because even if you are justified, your children will be hurt by it, and the far better outcome is reconciliation. Nevertheless, as James Dobson says in his book Love Must be Tough, sometimes the only route to a healthy marriage is to have the offending spouse feel the consequences of his actions.

So this must be a last resort, taken only when you have asked a mentor for good counsel, and only after a lot of prayer.

This isn’t something you do the night that you discover he’s been using porn.

I hope it never comes to that in your marriage. I hope that, instead, you can rebuild your marriage slowly by focusing on building a friendship, on cementing the goodwill, so that you can deal with these difficult issues. Spend time together just laughing and having fun. Do things together. And then, as he tries to stop, and as you try to forgive and move forward, it’s much easier.

I know this is such a heartbreaking issue for so many women. They’re desperate for their husbands to stop using porn, and nothing seems to be getting better. They’re lonely, they’re angry, they’re rejected, they’re hurt. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I pray that your husband will be able to see porn for the evil that it is, and that he will turn back to you. But just know, as you’re going through this difficult time, that most men who are involved in porn really don’t do so because their wives lack something. It truly isn’t a reflection on you; it’s just a temptation that men are especially prone to. Keep that in mind, and try to maintain an emotional distance, as much as you can, from the anger you’re bound to feel. God can change your husband, He can bring healing, and He can help you forgive. Walk down that road, and don’t give in to anger.

UPDATE: I changed the wording a little because I thought of a better way to say something, but the jist is the same! And here’s the follow up post, including a long comment from a man who has found healing!

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